Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Listening: What Are You Doing

It’s something that we do every day.

But most of us don’t do it well.

No, I’m not talking about laundry, cooking or spelling.

Most of us are bad listeners.

Let me give you an example: Have you ever been in a conversation with a co-worker and, though you’re seemingly “quiet” while they speak, you’re thinking ahead to what you want to say next? We’re all guilty of this at times.

Debra Davenport, an image and career counselor and president of Identity IQ, LLC, says this is because we are all ego-driven. We all have mental distractions that we deal with when communicating with others.

How can we overcome…ourselves…when listening?

Pay attention for content and emotion in what others are expressing, says Debra. Then, a big part of being a good listener is being conscious of your body language. Fiddling with your outfit, doodling and glancing over the shoulder of the person speaking to see if someone is walking by are cues that you are casually, not actively, listening.

Being an active listener means taking an active and physical approach with your body language. Mirroring the other person’s body language is a technique that visually reflects back the information that is being communicated. Mirroring is an especially effective tool when interviewing. If the interviewer has staunch posture when speaking and you can emulate this, you are much more likely to build an unspoken positive rapport with the other person.

In addition to mirroring, active listening depends heavily on other non-verbal cues. Things like nodding, smiling, raising eyebrows, leaning in and maintaining eye contact are all behaviors that show the other person you are not only taking in what they have to say, but understanding the overall message.

What not to do when listening?

Two common listening mistakes Debra sees in her clients:

1. Frowning

Many times people frown when they are processing information. Though they may be actively listening, they’re giving the wrong message to the person speaking. Frowning can mean a number of different things—many of which are not positive. It can indicate: “I disagree with what you are saying.” I am angry with you for what you just said.” “I don’t like you.”

Sending the wrong message with your body language can create communication barriers—barriers that can hinder relationships.

2. Eye Contact

Yes, eye contact is an important part of communication and listening, but the correct amount of eye contact can be tricky in some situations. Unwavering eye contact when a person is expressing personal or difficult news can create a distraction of its own. Give the person communicating a break; take some notes or glance at their hand gestures to interrupt prolonged eye contact.

Special thanks to Debra Davenport, president of Identity IQ, LLC, a licensed and certified firm that provides image development, career counseling and wellness consulting. Debra was a recent career expert on the “Dr. Phil” show, and she is the former workplace color spokesperson for Panasonic. Debra holds multiple degrees and certifications and serves on the faculties of several universities. She speaks and writes regularly about the image-career-wellness connection. Connect with Debra on Twitter at @debradavenport, and visit for more information.

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